The origins of the Cleric

Still working on Dungeon Delvers and thinking about the classes, old school thoughts, and how I want to do things. My previous post on warriors and wizards has lead to some interesting discussions on Google Buzz (I wish I could get them to cross post to my comments here on the blog, but alas Google and WordPress seem to not be friends).

So today I got to thinking as I dropped my daughter off at gymnastics about the cleric. When I think of the main four classes (warrior, rogue, mage, and cleric) I see each as having a distinct purpose. Now this does not sit well with my ‘I prefer a skill system’ mind, but if I was asked to define the classes I would do so by what purpose they serve in the game:

  • Warrior: kill stuff, protect the weaker (as in combat) members of the party
  • Rogue: disarm/remove traps, sometimes do that killing sneak attack on a big baddie
  • mage: area effect spells that can help the party survive when confronted with overwhelming odds
  • cleric: heal shit, turn undead

I have always had issue with the cleric class because to me their spell casting ability seems contrived and ‘off’. They supposedly are granted spell ability because they serve a deity and this is how he rewards them. Say for example, the party comes up to far too many goblins to defeat, the mage is tapped out because he cast his three spells (see previous discussion) and is now cowering in the corner. The deity, sitting up on high sees this. “Oh shit, I need to help out my follower!” So he grants some spells to help out.

I wonder if the deity having a miracle happen might be a better, or perhaps more interesting, way of doing things. If you think about real ‘fighting priests’ that the class is supposedly based upon (go wiki The Crusades) these were simply religiously devoted warriors, dedicated as much to their God as they were to killing things. Did they have spells, or was the thought something more like “I pray, follow in His steps and he ensures me victory in battle.” I am guessing the latter is more likely. Maybe a better choice would be to do away with the cleric class and just have the subset class of Warrior Priest. Maybe he can lay on hands to help ‘define a RPG purpose for him’ and the GM can GM fiat some miracles that the deity granted based upon the character’s devotion and offering he makes.

Now, I can see your fingers twitching a reply already, let me stop that thought. I will agree, this might break all the sacred foundations of D&D and OSR thoughts. Heck, simply might not be as fun for players (I know one player who would adamantly argue this thought with me, and might even punch me, I think he was a dwarven cleric in a previous life).

I think what I am trying to say is that I do not see a point in having a cleric, why not just a devoted ________ that can also heal occasionally and maybe a special talent or feat that allows anyone turn some undead? Isn’t that all we are asking of our clerics anyway?

God, I hate classes…….

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5 thoughts on “The origins of the Cleric

  1. I’ve never liked clerics. As a reader of Moorcock, Lieber and Howard, clerics always seemed to me to be a bizarre contrivance. In swords and sorcery fiction, priests will spell-casting abilities were more like magic users than the clerics of D&D.

    Then there’s the whole can of worms opened when you ponder issues such as why does is cost so much to be resurrected? Is high level clerical magic only accessible to the wealthy? Are the gods more interested in the plight of the elite? If that’s the case, then why do 1st level clerics begin their careers as well-armed tomb robbers? Why do clerical and magic user spells have to different in the first place? If religion is such a powerful force in the modern world – and you don’t have clerics casting Cure Disease every day – think about how powerful a force it would be in a world where the in undeniable proof of the gods’ existence? I would think that religion would be front and center of every adventure.

    Urg…clerics!

  2. Haha! I am with you Christian, I do not ever recall playing a Cleric in my past and odds are I never will. What we consider a Cleric to be due to our RPG programming is far removed from most I have read in books (though I admit I am not overly fond of fantasy novels), though in all honesty playing a Cleric from one of those novels might be boring as hell. “Ok, guys, I am going to go pray for success in the upcoming battle, see you next week!” Weeee, exciting!
    I read somewhere, ages ago, where someone wrote an article about how silly our fantasy worlds are. If magic was as prevalent as our games make it seem society in our games would never be that way. Think about those castle walls, no one would build them if a simple magic spell would knock them down. No diseases. People die, we would just resurrect them. Magic would be everywhere!
    Sure, I think in the end it would boil down to those who had cash, and mages would be very powerful and wealthy.

  3. Clerics are definitely problematic. Re: turning, a simple die modification bonus for them might be best – why can’t anyone attempt it?

    If you’re not familiar with piety points, you might check out Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming (I’m a bit embarrassed to bring this up as much as I do and maybe you’re well familiar) as a starting point for designing your own class of some kind. Or maybe Chaosium’s BRP or some iteration of Runequest is the game for you?

  4. Hmmm, actually your first idea might work. The magic system I am working on allows for anyone to cast spells, I am using Mana (points) that players can spend to help with rolls or to allow them to cast spells that they might not normally be able to cast.
    I suppose Mana could also be interpreted as a connection to magic/divinity/something and could thus be ‘pulled’ or used to help with any “turn undead” rolls. Perhaps a Religion talent or ‘feat’ type thing that allows a person to call upon a deity to help turn the undead.

  5. I think the best strategy is to take healing and put it into the magic system as a college. Then just have Paladins with smiting and other holy powers.

    I think the polytheism of D&D, which was always stupid to me, plays into the reason why it exists.

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